Utrecht Underground

We’ve all been there. Wandering around the city in the middle of the night after a phenomenal party. The streets seem like one big maze while you try to find your way to your student residence. The house you complain about every once in a while. The rent is too high. The room is too small. The kitchen is too messy. But what if you wouldn’t have that roof above your head? What if your comfy bed made place for a park bench? What if the streets were your home?

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We wander around the streets by choice. But there are some people amongst us in this magical city who have no choice but to wander around. People who ended up homeless for varying reasons. Are you curious to find out how these people survived and how the city looks like through their eyes? Join one of the city tours with ‘Utrecht Underground’. During these tours you will be guided through Utrecht by former homeless people and former drugs addicts.

According to the municipality of Utrecht there are an estimated 100 homeless people in this city the past years. While I was doing research for this blog post I stumbled on various fora were (soon to be) homeless people can ask questions and reach out for help. To be honest, I never realized there are so many different kind of factors and events which can lead to losing a roof above your head. Maybe I just never truly thought about it. And despite the fact we can’t carry the whole world on our shoulders, it is peculiar we give money to charity funds which operate on the other side of the world while sometimes forgetting there are people right around the corner who need our help as well.

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The stories on the fora broke my heart. Mother and child kicked out of the house by an ex-husband. A family losing their house due to bankruptcy of their company. A young woman wandering through the streets with no place to call home because of medical conditions. Of course, in most cases people don’t end up homeless in a blink of an eye. But the stories make you realize it can happen to anyone. It stresses the fact that we’re not only talking about the basic need in life to have a house to live in but also about the mental need to have a home. A safe haven. A place to truly be yourself. A place to be by yourself. In Dutch, a distinction can be made between ‘dakloos’ and ‘thuisloos’. ‘Dakloos’ literary means ‘without a roof’ and refers to actually not having a place to stay. ‘Thuisloos’ literary  mean ‘without a home’ and refers to being able to sleep somewhere (for example at the place of friends or family) but not owning or renting your own place. This distinction makes the difference between the need for a home and house very clear. Because even when someone is ‘thuisloos’ instead of ‘dakloos’ this person will still feel mutually lost.

You are all blessed with a loving family: your worldwide ESN family. Be grateful. Every single time you walk through the door of your own casa. Every single time you wake up in the middle of the night when one of your roommates loudly enters the house. Every single time you’re cleaning that damn toilet. Don’t flush your gratefulness down the drain.

By Femke van der Meijs

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